The point of origin of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ.
As we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, when Philip baptized the Ethiopian, a profession of faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour had to be expressed before someone could be baptized a Christian.
“What is to prevent my being baptized?”
“And Philip said, “And if you believe with all your heart, you may.”
“And he [the Ethiopian] replied,
“I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Acts of the Apostles 8:36-37
The above statement was the earliest and most basic form of the creed.
A creed is a willful and brief summary statement or profession of the Christian faith. The word “Creed” comes from the Latin word Credo, which means “I believe.” Examples include the Apostles’ Creed (“I believe”) or the Nicene Creed (“We believe”). They are also known as “symbols of faith.”
AN EARLY SYMBOL OF CHRISTIANITY
Christianity fell under intense persecution in the first century during the Roman Empire, beginning with Nero in 64 AD. But it was the powerful witness of Christian martyrs that led to continued spread of the faith. Persecution of Christianity under Roman rulers lasted for 300 years, until the Roman Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which mandated complete toleration of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
The fish became a symbol of the Christian faith, adorning the catacombs and early Christian Churches. In a time when professing the Christian faith was an invitation to death, the fish became a secret code to introduce one Christian to another. One Christian would draw a curve representing half of the symbol, and the other one would complete the cryptic symbol by drawing the second curve (see image).
The fish captures the central meaning, the essential creed of the Christian faith, for the Greek word for fish is ichthus, an acronym or acrostic for
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.
The statement “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” captures both the person of Christ and his mission. Who Christ is, the Son of God, and His mission, Savior, are both expressed by the ancient symbol of the fish.
THE APOSTLES’ CREED
There were three means of transmitting the Christian faith through the early times of the Church: (1) the establishment of Church authority through Apostolic succession and the oral tradition of the Bishop, presbyter (priest), and deacon in teaching the faithful followers of Christ; (2) the development of the canon of the New Testament, first proposed by Irenaeus of Lyons, to discern which writings were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and crucial to instruction in the faith ; and (3) the development of the Apostles’ Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed arose in the early Christian Church as a way of passing on the Christian Faith. The Creed, or Rule of Faith, was also an important guide to presbyters as well in interpretation of Scripture.
The Apostles’ Creed and the oral tradition were vitally important in the early Church to guide the early Christian community. The possession of sacred texts in times of persecution could mean discovery, imprisonment, and death. Also, it was common for people of that time to be illiterate. In addition, production of written Scripture was a monumental task in itself, as each page of any text had to be hand-written on papyrus! Thus written Scripture was in the hands only a few.
The development of The Apostles’ Creed began from Apostolic times, as a profession of faith during the rite of Baptism, recalling the instruction of Jesus to his disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19-20].” In accordance with this, the person about to be baptized was asked three questions: “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty…? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his Son our Lord…? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…?” The person being baptized would answer, “Credo” or “I believe.”
This three-part profession of faith was gradually developped in the early Christian Church, often in response to heresies, as a defense of the faith. A continuous Greek text independent of the question-and-answer form written about 200 AD has been discovered, resembling our present form of the Apostles’ Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed is presented here in 12 lines,
representing the 12 essential Articles of Faith for the Christian.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
From thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting. Amen.
1 Martin R. Theological Foundations. Course Lecture and Texts. Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2003.
2 The Navarre Bible New Testament Compact Edition. Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. Four Courts Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2001.
3 Shreck A. Compact History of the Catholic Church, Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1987.
4 Hans Urs von Balthasar. Convergences – To the Source of the Christian Mystery. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1983.
5 Ratzinger, JC. Introduction to Christianity. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1990.
6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, US Catholic Conference, Washington, D. C., 2000.
7 Young FM. Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. Cambridge University Press, London and New York, 1997.
8 Hans Urs von Balthasar. Credo – Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2000.
9 Mounce, WD. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1993.
10 Laux J. Church History. Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford Illinois, 1989.